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[Title taken from R. Kent Hughes]

Hughes: These final events of Joseph’s imprisonment were arranged by God to make Joseph an extraordinary instrument for the preservation of his people. Amidst the disappointment and delay of being forgotten by the cupbearer, Joseph’s trust in God had been further tempered and deepened. Joseph had become a radically God-centered man who believed that his God-given dreams would come true in God’s good time. God would remain at the center of his vision through everything that was to come. At last Joseph was ready for the great work of his life.

We make a mistake if we view this chapter simply as an example of God in His sovereignty elevating someone from the Pit of Misery to the Pinnacle of Power and Prosperity. We must view God’s timing and actions in harmony with His overall redemptive promises and purposes as expressed throughout the earlier chapters in Genesis. From the initial promise of the seed of the woman who would eventually conquer Satan down thru the promises to Abraham and the patriarchs, we see God preparing Joseph to play a significant role in rescuing Judah and preserving the Jewish line of posterity that would lead eventually to the birth of the Messiah.


A. (:1-7) Two Parallel Dreams

1. (:1-4) First Dream – Fat and Thin Cows

“Now it happened at the end of two full years that Pharaoh had a dream, and behold, he was standing by the Nile. And lo, from the Nile there came up seven cows, sleek and fat; and they grazed in the marsh grass. Then behold, seven other cows came up after them from the Nile, ugly and gaunt, and they stood by the other cows on the bank of the Nile. And the ugly and gaunt cows ate up the seven sleek and fat cows. Then Pharaoh awoke.”

2. (:5-7) Second Dream – Fat and Thin Ears of Grain

“And he fell asleep and dreamed a second time; and behold, seven ears of grain came up on a single stalk, plump and good. Then behold, seven ears, thin and scorched by the east wind, sprouted up after them. And the thin ears swallowed up the seven plump and full ears. Then Pharaoh awoke, and behold, it was a dream.”

Parunak: The dreams are straightforward but would certainly seize Pharaoh’s attention.

• They both start with recognizable features of Egyptian life:

o “The river,” the Nile, the lifeline of this otherwise desert land

o Cattle grazing along the river o Grain growing in the fields of silt deposited by the floods each year

• But these familiar scenes are disrupted in incredible ways.

o Cows are not carnivorous. What does it mean for one cow to eat another?

o Grain doesn’t eat anything, in the conventional sense. How can one ear of wheat eat another?

• The repetition of the scene after a waking period makes it impossible for Pharaoh to shake off the vision.

B. (:8-13) Two Paths of Interpretation

1. (:8) First Path – Pharaoh’s Magicians

“Now it came about in the morning that his spirit was troubled, so he sent and called for all the magicians of Egypt, and all its wise men. And Pharaoh told them his dreams, but there was no one who could interpret them to Pharaoh.”

George Bush: His dream was from God. God impressed it upon his mind that it was a dream out of the ordinary course, and that it was significant of some very important events, but what those vents were he could not guess.

Hughes: Egyptian Pharaohs, supposedly gods themselves, were thought to live on the edge of the divine realms. So their dreams were given special credence. And these dreams were full of portent. They had come as a pair, signaling their importance and certitude. They were also closely parallel. Both featured cannibalism. Both ended in consuming violence. And both dreams were built on the number seven.

Constable: The “magicians” were “men of the priestly caste, who occupied themselves with the sacred arts and sciences of the Egyptians, the hieroglyphic writings, astrology, the interpretation of dreams, the foretelling of events, magic, and conjuring, and who were regarded as the possessors of secret arts

2. (:9-13) Second Path – Cupbearer Commends Joseph

“Then the chief cupbearer spoke to Pharaoh, saying, ‘I would make mention today of my own offenses. Pharaoh was furious with his servants, and he put me in confinement in the house of the captain of the bodyguard, both me and the chief baker. And we had a dream on the same night, he and I; each of us dreamed according to the interpretation of his own dream. Now a Hebrew youth was with us there, a servant of the captain of the bodyguard, and we related them to him, and he interpreted our dreams for us. To each one he interpreted according to his own dream. And it came about that just as he interpreted for us, so it happened; he restored me in my office, but he hanged him.’”

Parunak: Each phrase is mildly condescending:

• “a young man,” unlike the older, wiser courtiers with whom the king was surrounded;

• “an Hebrew,” a foreigner, not a native-born Egyptian;

• “servant to …,” at a lower level of the palace hierarchy, unlike the butler, who was servant to Pharaoh himself (v.10).

These disparaging terms are probably meant to excuse his not mentioning this individual earlier. “O king, there was this rather inconsequential fellow in jail with us … but you know, he could interpret dreams.”

Hughes: It was a fairly accurate account, except that the cupbearer, being the political animal that he was, did some selective editing.

– He neglected to mention that the young Hebrew actually claimed to have no power to interpret dreams and said that the power to interpret came from his Hebrew God.

– The cupbearer also gave the false impression that he took the initiative in getting Joseph to interpret his dream.

– And, of course, the cupbearer made no mention that he had failed to carry out his promise to mention Joseph to Pharaoh.


A. (:14-24) The Diviner of the Dream Interpretation – Where can Pharaoh turn?

Diviner = a person who uses special powers to predict future events

1. (:14-15) Trap of Trusting in Spiritual Giants — Joseph Summoned as the Diviner

“Then Pharaoh sent and called for Joseph, and they hurriedly brought him out of the dungeon; and when he had shaved himself and changed his clothes, he came to Pharaoh. And Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘I have had a dream, but no one can interpret it; and I have heard it said about you, that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.’”

Deffinbaugh: To the Hebrews, a beard was a mark of dignity (cf. II Samuel 10:4-5; Ezra 9:3), but for the Egyptian it was an offensive thing. Joseph took the time to shave himself so as not to unnecessarily offend the king of Egypt.

Albert Barnes: The Egyptians were accustomed to shave the head and beard, except in times of mourning (Herod. 2:32).

2. (:16) Testimony to God’s Unique Role

“Joseph then answered Pharaoh, saying, ‘It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.’”

Hughes: to Pharaoh’s face Joseph asserted that his God was superior to and sovereign over the gods of Egypt.

J. Ligon Duncan: God, Pharaoh, is the revealer of the future. Not your magicians, not me, not the books of dreams. God is the revealer of the future. Joseph is, for the second time in two chapters, about to put on the mantle of a prophet, and he is going to reveal the future, not because he has some innate power to know the interpretations of dreams, but because God Himself reveals it to him, that he might reveal it to the Pharaoh, that he might show that He is the God who holds and knows the future. And so we see God laying the groundwork for His own exaltation, even in the midst of the land of Egypt. . . He not only knows the future, He not only has the power to reveal it to His servant, but He holds the future, because He has ordained the future.

3. (:17-24) Track Record of Failure by the Egyptian Magicians

“So Pharaoh spoke to Joseph, ‘In my dream, behold, I was standing on the bank of the Nile; and behold, seven cows, fat and sleek came up out of the Nile; and they grazed in the marsh grass. And lo, seven other cows came up after them, poor and very ugly and gaunt, such as I had never seen for ugliness in all the land of Egypt; and the lean and ugly cows ate up the first seven fat cows. Yet when they had devoured them, it could not be detected that they had devoured them; for they were just as ugly as before. Then I awoke. I saw also in my dream, and behold, seven ears, full and good, came up on a single stalk; and lo, seven ears, withered, thin, and scorched by the east wind, sprouted up after them; and the thin ears swallowed the seven good ears. Then I told it to the magicians, but there was no one who could explain it to me.’”

B. (:25-32) The Details of the Dream Interpretation

“Now Joseph said to Pharaoh,”

1. (:25) Significance — Supremely Significant – 3 Reasons:

a. Repeated for Emphasis

“Pharaoh’s dreams are one and the same;”

b. Divine in Origin

“God has told to Pharaoh”

c. Prophetic in Nature

“what He is about to do.”

Parunak: Joseph’s interpretation is framed by the three-fold repetition of his assertion that God has revealed what he is about to do: 25, 28, 32. This frame makes an important point. God’s revelation of the future is not a passive declaration of what will happen anyway, but an active statement of his sovereign will and intent.

2. (:26-31) Storyline — Great Abundance Swallowed Up by Severe Famine

“The seven good cows are seven years; and the seven good ears are seven years; the dreams are one and the same. And the seven lean and ugly cows that came up after them are seven years, and the seven thin ears scorched by the east wind shall be seven years of famine. It is as I have spoken to Pharaoh: God has shown to Pharaoh what He is about to do. Behold, seven years of great abundance are coming in all the land of Egypt; and after them seven years of famine will come, and all the abundance will be forgotten in the land of Egypt; and the famine will ravage the land. So the abundance will be unknown in the land because of that subsequent famine; for it will be very severe.”

Hughes: the future of Egypt was established without any reference to Pharaoh. As Walter Brueggemann explains, “The future in Egypt does not depend upon Pharaoh. He does not get to decide. In fact, Pharaoh is irrelevant and marginal to the future of the kingdom.”

3. (:32) Sovereign Fulfillment

“Now as for the repeating of the dream to Pharaoh twice, it means that the matter is determined by God, and God will quickly bring it about.”

Indicates the certainty that these events would take place very soon


A. (:33-36) Action Plan Proposed by Joseph – 5 Key Steps

Prepare these all the time for work:

– Define the task

– Assign a champion

– Establish the timetable and the metrics

1. (:33) Put the Right Man in Charge

“And now let Pharaoh look for a man discerning and wise, and set him over the land of Egypt.”

2. (:34a) Appoint Overseers

“Let Pharaoh take action to appoint overseers in charge of the land,”

3. (:34b) Collect Heavy Tax of Grain in 7 Fat Years

“and let him exact a fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt in the seven years of abundance.”

Amounts to a double tithe

4. (:35) Collect, Strategically Store and Guard the Grain

“Then let them gather all the food of these good years that are coming, and store up the grain for food in the cities under Pharaoh’s authority, and let them guard it.”

5. (:36) Distribute the Grain in 7 Lean Years

“And let the food become as a reserve for the land for the seven years of famine which will occur in the land of Egypt, so that the land may not perish during the famine.”

Hughes: Fascinatingly, every aspect of Joseph’s plan called for dynamic action. And here is what fascinates: Joseph’s dynamic call to action was based on his knowledge of what God was about to do. So we see that the knowledge of what god is going to do does not produce passive resignation but aggressive action. The knowledge of God’s purpose is not the end of human planning and action but the beginning of it. The fact that God has set the future is a mighty summons to action.

Today it is precisely this that undergirds the tremendous energy of world missions. We know how history is going to end – it will end with people redeemed from “every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” (Revelation 7:9). So we pray and give and go!

B. (:37-45) Action Plan Affirmed by Pharaoh

Parunak: The appointment narrative consists of six successive actions by Pharaoh. His title is repeated with each one of them, slowing down the action and marking this as the high point of the story.

• (:38-40) Two actions declare Pharaoh’s intention.

• (:41-43) Two actions invest Joseph with authority.

• (:44-45) Two actions establish his position in the Egyptian nobility.

1. (:37) Summary Affirmation – It’s all Good

“Now the proposal seemed good to Pharaoh and to all his servants.”

2. (:38-40) Declaring His Intention to Elevate Joseph on the Basis of Merit

a. Declaring to His Servants – Man of Unique Insight and Vision

“Then Pharaoh said to his servants, ‘Can we find a man like this, in whom is a divine spirit?’”

Deffinbaugh: I have become more convinced than ever, having gained a deeper appreciation for the character and humble spirit of Joseph, that it never entered into his mind that he should be the one appointed over this project. Self-interest had never been manifest in his character or conduct prior to this. He did not even mention his unjust imprisonment. Furthermore, who could ever have conceived of a Hebrew slave being elevated to the second highest office in the land? Regardless of the person in charge, the plan would have to be followed in order to deal with the famine which was predicted.

b. Declaring to Joseph – Man of Supreme Discernment and Wisdom

“So Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘Since God has informed you of all this, there is no one so discerning and wise as you are. You shall be over my house, and according to your command all my people shall do homage; only in the throne I will be greater than you.’”


Joseph was not only godly, he was good at what he did. He proposed a wise plan of action and he had the skill to carry it out. His plan involved collecting a fifth of the harvest each year for seven years, so that they had enough surplus not only for Egypt, but also for surrounding countries hit by this famine. It would have taken skillful administration and a lot of discipline to make this happen on a national scale. No doubt Joseph caught a lot of flak from people who wanted to use all the harvest and not save it for the future. But he was good enough as a leader to pull it off.

A lot of Christians think that character is enough on the job. They expect that God will get them the promotion because they’ve been faithful to have morning devotions. They sit around praying for the promotion instead of developing competence on the job to go with their Christian character. You need both. As a Christian, you need to be godly, but you also need to be good in doing what you do.

3. (:41- 43) Investing Joseph with Authority to Govern

a. Symbols of Royalty – Visible signs of power

“And Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘See I have set you over all the land of Egypt.’ Then Pharaoh took off his signet ring from his hand, and put it on Joseph’s hand, and clothed him in garments of fine linen, and put the gold necklace around his neck.”

b. Respect of Royalty – Inauguration Parade

“And he had him ride in his second chariot; and they proclaimed before him, ‘Bow the knee!’ And he set him over all the land of Egypt.”

4. (:44-45) Establishing Joseph’s Position in Royal Household

a. (:44) Level of Authority

“Moreover, Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘Though I am Pharaoh, yet without your permission no one shall raise his hand or foot in all the land of Egypt.’”

b. (:45) Sealing the Deal

“Then Pharaoh named Joseph Zaphenath-paneah; and he gave him Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera priest of On, as his wife. And Joseph went forth over the land of Egypt.”

Name Zaphenath-paneah means “God speaks and live” (though some uncertainty here)

Deffinbaugh: The final section (vv.46-57) serves several purposes. First, it reveals the accuracy of Joseph’s interpretation. Second, it evidences the administrative astuteness of Joseph in handling the affairs of state in preparation for the famine to come. Finally, it reveals to us Joseph’s continued spiritual commitment to the God of his fathers.


A. (:46) Joseph Delivered and Exalted to Leadership

“Now Joseph was thirty years old when he stood before Pharaoh, king of Egypt. And Joseph went out from the presence of Pharaoh, and went through all the land of Egypt.”

Joseph was about 17 when he descended into this life of captivity and disappointment … so a lot of time has elapsed; he is a young man to be given so much responsibility; but he has waited on the Lord to deliver him for a long time

Dr. Dodd: No doubt for the building of granaries, and appointing proper officers to receive the corn in every place

B. (:47-49) Seven Years of Plenty – Implementing the Action Plan

“And during the seven years of plenty the land brought forth abundantly. So he gathered all the food of these seven years which occurred in the land of Egypt, and placed the food in the cities; he placed in every city the food from its own surrounding fields. Thus Joseph stored up grain in great abundance like the sand of the sea, until he stopped measuring it, for it was beyond measure.”

Parunak: Note that each city’s food is laid up in that city, from the produce of that city. He instituted a distributed system of managing the resources, to motivate local involvement and facilitate the eventual distribution.

C. (:50-52) Two Sons Born to Joseph – Testimony to God’s Love and Faithfulness

“Now before the year of famine came, two sons were born to Joseph, whom Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera priest of On, bore to him. And Joseph named the first-born Manasseh, ‘For,’ he said, ‘God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household.’ And he named the second Ephraim, ‘For,’ he said, ‘God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.’”

Hughes: Joseph declared his allegiance to God and his faith in God’s word by giving his boys Hebrew names!

Deffinbaugh: this paraphrase may help to express the meaning which I think Joseph was trying to convey in the naming of Manasseh: “For,” he said, “God has made me forget all my trouble with my father’s household.” The bitterness was gone. Joseph was able, even now, to see that while his brothers were wrong in their actions, God had meant it for good (cf. 50:20). With this attitude Joseph could exercise sufficient self-control to keep from revealing his identity too quickly, and thus bring his brothers to genuine repentance by a careful program of instruction unimpeded by feelings of anger and vengeance.

The name Ephraim, that is “fruitfulness” (margin, NASV), conveyed the assurance of Joseph that it was God who had given him prosperity and blessing in the land of his affliction. To Joseph, affliction and blessing were not contradictory, for God was able to turn sorrow into joy.

D. (:53-57) Seven Years of Famine – Success of the Action Plan

“When the seven years of plenty which had been in the land of Egypt came to an end, and the seven years of famine began to come, just as Joseph had said, then there was famine in all the lands; but in all the land of Egypt there was bread. So when all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried out to Pharaoh for bread; and Pharaoh said to all the Egyptians, ‘Go to Joseph; whatever he says to you, you shall do.’ When the famine was spread over all the face of the earth, then Joseph opened all the storehouses, and sold to the Egyptians; and the famine was severe in the land of Egypt. And the people of all the earth came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph, because the famine was severe in all the earth.”

J. Ligon Duncan: Moses is telling you that God plunged Egypt and not only Egypt, but the entire near eastern world into a seven-year cycle of famine and starvation in order to bless the family of Jacob. God’s people are the apple of His eye. And history, and in this case the history of these nations, is merely a backdrop to God’s plan of redemption. You are seeing in the story of Joseph a picture of God’s gospel providence. God’s evangelical providence. The way that God rules the world for the sake of his people.


From the Pit to the Pinnacle – What a Journey!